United Way: No Boy Scouts
Austin Chronicle, November 13, 2003
By Michael King
This morning (Thursday), the United Way Capital Area and the Capitol Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America are scheduled to make a joint announcement of the pending dissolution of the BSA's "partnership" relationship with the United Way, following the local United Way's adoption last March of an "inclusiveness
policy" that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation.
After months of consideration, Capitol Area Boy Scouts has decided to abandon its "partnership" status - which enabled it to receive direct grants from the United Way's Community Investment Fund - effective June 30, 2004. (Individual contributors will still be able to
designate their United Way donations for the Boy Scouts.) The national Boy Scouts of America has legally defended its right as a private organization to prohibit the membership of openly gay scouts or scout leaders - or what it calls "avowed homosexuals." The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this right in 2000. Since that decision, the relationship between the Boy Scouts and United Way affiliates in a number of cities has been strained or severed, but BSA policy has not
changed. This year in Philadelphia, the national organization required a local BSA council to reverse a nondiscrimination policy it had briefly adopted.
Representatives of both Central Texas organizations are careful to describe the decision as an amicable separation, based on mutual agreement and respect. The Capitol Area Council of the BSA is currently receiving $157,000 in a direct United Way partnership grant through June 2004
(plus additional funding through designated individual donations), but has decided not to reapply for partnership status in the current funding cycle for the next fiscal year. On Wednesday, the United Way board agreed to provide one year of "transitional" funding to the BSA while it seeks to establish alternative sources of funds.
In announcing the change, Clarke Heidrick of United Way Capital Area said, "This decision was
reached with the best interest of the entire community in mind. ... Those who wish to continue to support Boy Scouts with their United Way gift may do so by designating their pledge to Scouting." Bruce Walcutt of the Capitol Area Council of the BSA said, "Out of respect for our friends at United Way, its inclusiveness policy, and the people we serve, our board believes that it is in the best interest of our community to move forward and replace the United Way funding
from other sources."
Heidrick said the United Way's inclusiveness policy is the result of nearly two years of internal organizational dialogue as well as research and interviews in the community. A task force was appointed to study the issue in early 2002, and its proposed change in eligibility criteria to reflect the new inclusiveness policy was adopted by the United Way board last spring. "We are one community, and we
raise money from the entire community," Heidrick said. "We want to serve the entire community." Walcutt said that while he does not expect the national debate over the Boy Scouts policy to end, the local BSA "doesn't want to spend a lot of energy on negativity. ... All we have control over is how our two organizations respond to this situation, and I think that sets Austin apart, and reflects our strong sense of community."